Are you tired of Hogaak Summer yet? Are you looking forward to the big finale, the upcoming Grand Prix in Las Vegas? Starting this Friday, ChannelFireball is going to air what will likely prove the last episode of the season. Industry insiders don’t expect the executives in charge to renew Hogaak’s contract. The character quickly advanced to the role of main antagonist after its introduction only two months ago, to the point of eclipsing most other storylines. Ultimately Hogaak couldn’t win favor with fans of the show and should be written out on Monday.
So Grand Prix Vegas is bound to conclude a major story arc. It’s the culmination of a four-GP stretch that will go down in history as the Summer of ‘Gaak, and there is a lot of history here. If you’re interested in Hogaak’s beginnings, for instance, you can read up on the prequel, when a young necropolis on the rise was first slaying it in a combo with Bridge from Below and Altar of Dementia. If you want to know more about the current main cast’s interaction, you can also check out the breakdown of how everyone fared in their battles against each other.
Modern Developments from Barca to Brum
This article sums up the major plot developments over the course of Grand Prix Barcelona, Grand Prix Minneapolis, and Grand Prix Birmingham. Focus lies on Birmingham’s 14 most popular decks (those making up 2% of the field or more) but it includes a couple of others handpicked for notability.
For each archetype, you can find its Day 1 metagame share across all three tournaments below, as well as the percentage of all matches all of its pilots won at each of the three tournaments. This excludes byes and draws, but includes playoff results. Note that the following differs a bit from what the excellent Birmingham coverage published because of removed no-show players and slightly different deck categorization.
Hogaak went from 7.9% of the field in Barcelona to above 10% in Minneapolis and stayed there for Birmingham. Its win rate dropped from 58.8% first to 56% and then to 54.6%.
Players in Barcelona hadn’t all caught up to the news about Hogaak. Stabilizing at 10–11%, meanwhile, suggests an upper limit to the number of people willing to invest in a deck whose key card is liable to get banned before long. Assuming rational actors optimizing for short-term tournament success, you’d expect a larger share. But staying away isn’t completely irrational either. Investing in a deck isn’t even a purely monetary concern. Getting acquainted with something requires time and dedication, and that brings about an emotional investment too. As such, don’t expect Hogaak to become much more popular in Vegas.
The drop-off in win rate clearly is a function of the field at large gearing up to beat Hogaak. That the strategy maintained a win rate this high in the face of increasing adversity is all the evidence we need for a ban. At the same time, it is unfair to hate on Wizards for not pulling the plug on Hogaak earlier. Public discourse ahead of the previous round of bannings didn’t indicate that the Arisen Necropolis was the real culprit. Sure, Wizards didn’t want to kill a card released so recently. But they always weigh the cost of a banning in their decisions, and to do so is less about self-interest than many think. It is a cost to the company, but it is much more of a cost to the players that invested—time, money, and more immaterial resources—into a card.
Jund’s share at the three most recent GPs oscillated between 7.1% and 8%. Its win rate oscillated between 48% and 49.6%. Nowhere else was fluctuation so minor. The graph might as well show two straight lines.
People love to play fair games. Back in Barcelona, players showed their predilection by making White-Blue Control the number one archetype overall, whereas Jund was only fourth in representation. Since then, Jund has sat in second place in the ranking of most-played decks.
Playing a fair deck in current Modern does not promise success. That said, among the fair strategies, Jund may be the best at allowing success.
Green Tron went from 4.2% of the field in Barcelona to 6.3% in Minneapolis to 7.3% in Birmingham. Its win rate ranged from 48.3% in Minneapolis to 54.3% in Birmingham.
The deck regained much of its former popularity after Toffel showed the world how it’s done at Mythic Championship IV. Previously, the more common Tron deck was of the colorless Eldrazi variety.
4. Red Prowess
Some differentiation between Prowess and Phoenix decks. In my book, Mono-Red Phoenix is merely the largest subcategory under the Red Prowess banner. After all, a substantial amount of lists differ in little more than the presence or absence of Arclight Phoenix itself.
The archetype made a substantial jump after Barcelona and has hovered between 6.2% and 6.7% since. This development coincided with an even steeper decrease for Izzet Phoenix, which makes sense when you look at the respective win rates. One of the two posted winning records at each of the last four Modern GPs, whereas Izzet Phoenix posted losing records at all of them.
Burn players went from 5.1% of the field in Barcelona to 6.6% in Minneapolis to 6.1% in Birmingham. They went from winning 54.7% of their matches in Barcelona to winning 50.6% of their matches at both of the following GPs.
The lowered win rate may be a function of the deck finally getting some respect, and it still is way higher than it used to be. Before Modern Horizons, Burn had consistently placed among the worst performers in all of Modern. No other deck had lost so much while simultaneously, inexplicably, being played this much.
Why it all changed with the release of Modern Horizons remains unclear. It’s possible that Burn thrives in an unhealthy environment. The deck isn’t good against Hogaak itself, but it might prey on those who aspire to such and neglect their fire-proofing as a consequence. More sideboard slots dedicated to the graveyard mean less sideboard slots for traditional defense mechanisms. It’s also possible that the improvement stems from the addition of the Horizon lands—not just Sunbaked Canyon but Fiery Islet too. Lucien Longlais, the highest ranking Burn player at both GP Dallas-Fort Worth and GP Minneapolis, attributed some of his success to the decision to run six copies.
6. White-Blue Control
White-Blue Control’s win rate changed very little, from 47.6% at its lowest to 49.1% to 48.9%. The comparison to Jund is obvious though somewhat unfavorable.
Its metagame share, in contrast, plummeted from 10.6% in Barcelona to about 6% afterward. Unlike Jund players, White-Blue mages apparently need to feel in control, and the deck clearly didn’t offer that. At least, there was a massive exodus here.
7. Izzet Phoenix
Izzet Phoenix fell harder still. It had been either the most-played or the second most-played deck at every single Modern Grand Prix from January up until Barcelona. Then it crashed down to 4.3%, and only recovered slightly, landing in seventh place with a share of 5.5% at Grand Prix Birmingham.
Izzet Phoenix players won 47.2% of 1,135 matches in Barcelona, 43.5% of 248 matches in Minneapolis, and 49.3% of 371 matches in Birmingham. Sample size makes Barcelona’s results more reliable than either the total flop in Minneapolis or the respectable showing in Birmingham. In the end, all of these numbers appear appropriate for the recent rather than the former metagame share.
Humans dropped from 7.3% of the field in Barcelona to a little over 4%. Its win rate too dropped from 51.8% first to 48.9% and then to 46.9%.
What looks like two trends neatly corresponding might as well be weird coincidence. It looks as if competitors in Minneapolis avoided Humans for good reason, when in fact they couldn’t know that the deck’s performance was going to deteriorate. Barcelona’s results gave no such indication.
9. Eldrazi Tron
Eldrazi Tron went from 9.5% of the field in Barcelona to 5.1% in Minneapolis and 3.7% in Birmingham. Its win rate never dipped below 50.8% and even spiked at 58.9%.
With White-Blue Control and Izzet Phoenix, their decline in popularity was the logical consequence of a lack in performance. Aside from variance, there’s no similar explanation for Eldrazi Tron’s fall from favor. It did coincide with the rise of traditional Tron though, so Urza’s lands may just have been busy elsewhere.
Archetypes with 2–3% in Birmingham
Thopter Foundry went from 2.3% of the field in Barcelona to 3.8% in Minneapolis to 3% in Birmingham, with impressive win rates of 56.1%, 52.5%, and 59.4%.
Hardened Scales went from 1.2% of the field in both Barcelona and Minneapolis to 2.9% in Birmingham, with middling win rates of 48.7%, 51.7%, and 49.2%.
Dredge went from 2.5% of the field in Barcelona to 1.5% in Minneapolis to 2.3% in Birmingham, with win rates of 47.9%, 51.3%, and 49.7%.
Devoted Vizier went from 1.7% of the field in Barcelona to 2.7% in Minneapolis to 2.2% in Birmingham, with wildly fluctuating win rates of 41.7%, 54.3%, and 51.7%.
Infect went from 1.3% of the field in Barcelona to 2.1% in Minneapolis to 2.2% in Birmingham, with consistently disappointing win rates of 46.3%, 42.4%, and 43.7%.
Decks with lower player numbers completed fewer matches which means less reliable data. Nevertheless, I’d be remiss to omit the archetype that won Grand Prix Birmingham.
Using this in an attempt to assess Mardu Shadow‘s strength comes with two issues, and they conflict with each other. On one hand, only two players ran the deck in Barcelona and only five did in Minneapolis. Their combined records, respectively 3-10 and 5-12, clearly count for less than Mardu Shadow’s 100 matches in Birmingham. On the other hand, the results from Birmingham include a singular outlier. Rory Kear-Smith went 15-1-2 over the course of the weekend. His performance far exceeded this of the other nine Mardu Shadow pilots in the tournament and distorts the aggregate.
For the future, don’t expect Mardu Shadow to win 23.1% of matches as it did in Barcelona, but don’t expect another 61% haul like the one in Birmingham either. Excluding Kear-Smith’s run leaves a win rate of 54.8%, which seems a much more reasonable assumption.
Another niche deck outperformed even Mardu Shadow. Bant Soulherder players won 63% of their matches in Birmingham.
Granted, there were just three of them and they finished but 27 matches. We also don’t have previous data for comparison, because the archetype did not exist beforehand. Still it serves as a reminder that evolution happens all the time. Even now, there’s more to Modern than perfecting the optimal build of Hogaak.
Decks come and go. One particular absence that caught my eye was Neobrand, whose brand isn’t all that neo anymore.
The deck never lived up to the hype—more meme than mean—and now it’s gone. Hogaak will pass away too, and then something new will come along, something fresh, exciting, and modern.